Saturday, February 1, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 284

McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.

Chapter 284: Gibbs' Ladies

When he was in school the first time, Gibbs hated homework. There were so many other things he wanted to do and being buried in books or writing essays just wasn’t on the list.

Part of what he liked about the idea of the military was that he’d be done with homework.

There are times when he laughs at how he thought that.

The Marines was tons of homework, sure not a whole lot of it was bookwork (at first), but there was some, and though he was naturally handy, he did have to practice to get drills down and his rifle mastered, and all the rest of it.

And sniper school… As he told Tim, half of it is pulling the trigger. The other half… The other half is math. (Okay, technically physics, but still, it’s math.) Hard math. Hard math you tried to get done ahead of time (like the rest of the snipers he carried around a small notebook with his calculations in it) but if something shifted, which is often the case with combat sniping, sometimes you’ve got to calculate a trajectory on the fly, in your head, under pressure, while taking wind readings, distance readings, and deciding which gun or bullet to use. And you fucking can’t be wrong.

It was a ton of work. Work he liked, but there were still a lot of days when he felt like his brain was going to melt.

He can remember Shannon rubbing his shoulders as he sat at the kitchen table, staring at the book, willing himself to shove just one more fact into his head. Then she stepped away for a moment, and came back, with a Q-tip. “Here.”

He looked up, really confused.

“So you can wipe up the brains dripping out your ears,” she said with a smile, sitting in his lap, kissing his nose. “You’ve been at it three hours. It works better if you take breaks every now and again.”

He leaned back in the chair and rubbed his eyes; she snuggled in closer. “What sort of break do you suggest?”

She smiled at him warm and saucy. “I know what I’d like, but how about you eat something first, before you get cranky on top of burned out.” She kissed him one more time, standing up, taking away the coffee cup sitting next to him. “Man can’t live on coffee alone, Gibbs.” 

He’s sitting at his kitchen table, cup of coffee next to him, pad of paper in front, pen in hand, looking at a piece of paper that says: Dream Home: Steps.

Tactical planning. Great. Somehow he has the feeling that what he’s got on the first page (crumpled up and tossed out) meet woman, get to know her, fall in love, move in together, isn’t exactly a plan.

After all, if Eisenhower had said: Land in France, defeat Germans, win the war, everyone else would have laughed him out of the room.

The jump from Gunnery Sergeant to Master Sergeant is a pretty big one. One he had been hoping to make. And as such, he kept hitting the books.

They’d been hinting that come the end of the ground war in Iraq, he’d be up for Master Sergeant.

But that didn’t happen.

And, for a while, when he was floundering in the dark during the months between killing Hernandez and heading back to see Mike Franks again, the idea that he’d ever have enough interest in anything, let alone a new job, seemed ridiculous.

But he did eventually wander over to see Franks.

And Mike looked up at him from the paperwork on his desk, looked him up and down, and said, “Back, huh?”

Gibbs nodded.

“I can use ya. Ya don’t waste good, and yer good.” Then he wrote down FLETC and a phone number. “Gotta go back to school first. Shouldn’t have any trouble getting in. Gettin’ out’s a different story, but if ya get out, and I’ve got a job for ya.”

FLETC felt a lot more like high school than he was hoping. But it was… distracting. It was different. New place, new people, new jobs. It was a goal. And he got through. (It was harder than he was expecting. He was used to memorizing regulations, did lots of that in the Marines. And the physical requirements were way easier than the Corp. Plus he could out shoot the instructor. Most of the skills he didn’t have any issues with, and honestly, evasive driving was a lot of fun. Civil liberties law was a different subject, though… Possibly because he wasn’t naturally inclined to being sympathetic to the rights of the accused. When he realized he was going to get yanked out on the psych evals if he couldn’t fake it, he learned to fake it. That was also when he realized that if he talked about Shannon and Kelly, he wasn’t going to be able to fake it. So he stopped talking about them.)

Few years later, he was in Okinawa with Franks, so he learned Japanese. More work, more hours spent with books and ear phones and listening to tapes over and over. But it ate up time, and it was useful. And it meant that everyone else learned he could pick up a new language pretty quickly. So, in ’96, when Franks had his own, I can’t take this anymore moment, Gibbs got a new Probie to go with Burley, a new set of assignments, tickets to Paris, and a copy of Rosetta Stone: French. (And then there was Russian. He picked up a bit of German, too.)

So, it’s true that it’s been more than ten years since he’s done any sort of real homework assignments. And he hasn’t worried about being graded on something and not passing muster since he was sixteen, sitting in his English Literature class, getting called on to give a speech about Messianiac figures in Red Badge of Courage.

But the paper in front of him is blank. And 'Meet woman' just isn’t going to cut it.

When he got to the Corp, when there was finally a concrete goal (Private First Class was the first of them.) Gibbs had no problem doing the work he needed (and more on top of it) to get the gold star.

And staring at the blank page, he’s thinking that he might have an easier time looking at this from the point of view of what he’s already done.

It’s easier to criticize a plan than it is to come up with one in the first place.

So he got up, poured himself some more coffee, poured a slug of bourbon in it, sat back down, and started to write down how he went about getting his various exes.

He met Hannah at a bar. Not that unusual. Those days he met lots of women at bars. (As Ducky said, back in the day Gibbs was a lot like Tony.) And those days, less than two months out of FLETC, nothing much to do when he wasn’t working, too burnt to even woodwork. (Kept destroying the projects he tried to start.) Gibbs spent most of his free nights, sometimes with Franks, sometimes without, at bars, sucking down bourbon, looking to get laid.

He didn’t plan to get her name, or number, or anything beyond the use of her body for an hour or so, but her hair was red, and her laugh light, and the perfume… It wasn’t the same, but it was similar, and if he closed his eyes, (or, as it turned out, if he was behind her) it was close enough.

And for a little while he felt better.

So, he did get her name, and he did get her number, and he did call the next day to see if she’d like some dinner sometime.

And she did.

They made it two years, longer than either of the other two, but he started hunting a serial killer, pulling further and further into the case, seeing more and more haunted faces of victims’ families, more and more parents who’d lost their children, parents he wasn’t saving from this pain.

He worked until he dropped, worked until Mike started sending him home, but he couldn’t go home, couldn’t talk about it, so he headed back to the bar, to more bourbon and more women.

By the time he got out of it, by the time he killed the man, he was alone again.

And, honestly, he didn’t mind.

Diane when they were dating.
Diane was all heat and fire. He doesn’t even remember where they met. (She does. And she’s still pissed that he doesn’t.) He does remember seeing her and the feeling of heat. How time and space sort of slipped away as dark, primitive, sexual heat swelled between them.

He remembers the sparks in her eyes.

The passion in the way she teased him, and how he teased back. How he wanted to tease her back.

And the blinding scorch of slipping into her body.

He remembers how that heat pulled him out of the dull, moving-through-fog sensation of depression. He remembers how looking forward to seeing her, fucking her, arguing with her, just being with her, was the first thing he had enjoyed, genuinely enjoyed, in years.

And if Hannah was the first time the pain stopped, Diane was the first brush of actual pleasure.

But it wasn’t enough. Fondness wasn’t enough. Great sex wasn’t enough.

She was smart. She knew he didn’t love her. She knew there was a core of him she couldn’t touch. Didn’t know why. And when she found out…

When erotic heat turned to anger, and she burned just as hot in that direction.

He does remember where he met Stephanie. Beautiful, classic, enticing Stephanie, olive on a toothpick between her teeth, nibbling gently.

Vodka martini. Why not? They were in Moscow. And again, it was a bar, and again, red hair, slim build, beautiful eyes, and a whiff of something that smelled like home.

They’d been married for two months when the case took him back to Paris. He and Jen went. Stephanie hated the fact that his partner was a woman (especially another slim redhead with long hair and green eyes) and loathed that there was a part of his life she’d never touch, but that Jen got to be part of every day.

She begged him to take Burley. He wouldn’t budge. It was going to be him and Jen. Two guys roaming around Paris looked weird. A man and a woman, romantic city, they’d blend better.

By the time he got back to Moscow, four months later, the thing with Jen had started and ended, and he never said anything about it, but Stephanie knew.

They moved back to the States a month after that.

For six months their relationship limped along. He buried himself in work, picked up a new partner from Baltimore, and he fucked other women, and she slept with other men, and she screamed at him, hit him with a baseball bat, and practically set fire to the house, but when it came down to it, she couldn’t hurt him the way he hurt her, because really, he just didn’t care.

(He still feels guilty about that.)

“You wanna work with me? You gotta learn the rules.”

“The rules?” Jenny Shepard, or, as he was calling her, Probie, said.

“Yeah, got a lot of them. Number one, ‘Never screw your partner.”

Jen smiled up at him, wicked glint in those beautiful green eyes. “Never? How painfully limiting.”

And he knew he was lost. He made it two and a half years between Jen being made his Probie, and then Partner, and not once did he touch her, or beyond some mild flirting, step out of line. Because he knew where it’d go if he did.

But they were in Paris, and the cover was a couple, (and God, he knew he was playing with fire when he set that up, knew it was going to end how it ended, but he did it anyway.) and somehow pretending stopped being pretending. (Or maybe the we’re-just-co-workers was the pretend part, and the couple was real.) Somehow a dinner out to keep an eye on suspects turned into a real dinner when he never showed, and dinner turned into a romantic walk (where they were supposedly scouting the turf ahead of time) and somehow that ended up with them in bed and her fingernails leaving trails down his back. 

Four months later the op was done, and so were they.

She was kind about it. They’d done so well on the mission she’d been offered a post, a team, of her own, (some sort of liaison work with Mossad or something) and she was taking it. He was to go back to DC, take their Medical Examiner with him, work with Burley until he had a start on a new team, at least one new hire, and then Burley would head for Agent Afloat assignments.

And in the end, she kissed his cheek, wished him well, and he was annoyed because even though he wasn’t in love with her, he did really like her, and she was a great partner, and… That was bullshit.

It hurt to get left, and that was the beginning and end of it, she was leaving him.

But the part of him that remembered he had a wife in Moscow, and more importantly, one in the grave, knew he’d never be more than deeply fond of Jenny Shepard, and she deserved better than that.

He went back to Moscow, no idea what to say or do about Stephanie, but his rules had changed, and he added one more: Number 12: Don’t date your partner, because obviously Number 1 hadn’t been specific enough.

“When the case is done, let it go.” Mike said that to him, over and over and over.

The case was done. Or should have been. But this one did go to trial, and Elizabeth had been one of the technical witnesses. She was a banker, worked for First Columbia, and had been instrumental in letting them know enough about how check fraud worked so they could catch the guy.

The job was over. He’d let it go.

And then bumped into her at the courthouse.


Tall, slim build, curly red hair, fire in her eyes. Yeah, he was interested. So, he asked her out for coffee. She gave his wedding ring a long, pointed look. He saw her check it, noticed the one on her finger.

“Is it a problem?” he asked.

She shook her head. “For you?”

He shook his head and offered her his hand.

“Coffee” ended up being a motel four streets down.

Mysterious Redhead
They’d meet a few times a month. Mostly for stress relief. She’d pick him up from work when she had a bad day. Occasionally he’d pick her up when he’d had one. She never saw his home. He never saw hers. They usually made it to a hotel or motel, but occasionally they took advantage of the fact that her car was a convertible.

Drove Tony, and eventually Kate, and after another year Tim, bonkers that they never even got her name. Just, the mysterious red-head they’d occasionally see give Gibbs a lift at the end of a long day.

One day, not long after they met, he stopped wearing his ring. Another day, two years later, she stopped wearing hers.

They never talked about it.

Eventually she told him she’d gotten a new job in Miami. She didn’t ask for anything. Didn’t indicate he had any choice in the matter. It was a good job, better pay, more power, she was going. She was not inviting him to come along. (Though if he ended up down there on a case, he was welcome to look her up.)

He wished her luck, and genuinely meant it.

And for a year after, he’d think about her on occasion, and miss her.

“When the case is done, let it go.”

Mike said it. He said it. He had it written down and tucked into his box of rules.

There’s an unwritten one in there, too. “When the relationship is done, let it go.”

Yes, Director. 
So, of course, the new Director of NCIS was Jenny. He didn’t play the politics close enough to even know she was in the running. (Best he knew twenty years of service was a requirement for the job, and she didn’t have it. He doesn’t know if they bent that for her, or if it was just an NCIS legend.)

She was still beautiful, still driven, still… everything... she’d been in Paris.

And now she was his Boss.

The attraction was still there. The desire hadn’t been lessened by time apart. If anything the fact that she was his Boss, that it was forbidden, made it even hotter. But she had bigger goals than him, and the fact that he liked her, that he enjoyed her, that he wanted her body under his, (and for some reason, probably because she was his boss, in all the fantasies he was on top) and could still remember the taste of her skin slick with sweat and cum, still didn’t mean he was in love.

So, he enjoyed the flirtation, he enjoyed playing the power games with her. He enjoyed their relationship in a way that was probably quite a bit more sexual than it needed to be, but wasn’t sexual enough to cross the line.

And it felt like a punch in the gut when he watched her play DiNozzo, watched her wrap him in a similar web of sexual intrigue when she thought he wasn’t looking.

But that’s who she was, driven, and she’d use any tool, break any rule, do whatever was necessary, screw the consequence to get what she wanted.

And when she died, he lit a candle for her, too.

Maybe he and Hollis had had a chance.

Probably not.

But, sometimes, he likes to think, that… maybe…

Okay, she said she’d done a profile on him. He assumed (Stupid. Don’t assume.) that meant that she already knew about Shannon and Kelly. (After all, Ziva’s profile had included that.)

Turned out she didn’t. So, of course, she never brought it up, because she didn’t know. And he never brought it up, because he never voluntarily talked about it.

By the time she found out, they’d been together for almost nine months, long time to not mention something like that.

He couldn’t say to her ‘I thought you knew.’

And she couldn’t say ‘Can you move on from this? Can we do this?’

So they didn’t. He found her listening to the recording in his basement. She looked up at him, so sad, and he sort of did that little shrug thing he does, and she shook her head, and next thing he knew, she was moving to Hawaii.

Sometimes he wishes he’d called her. Or taken some damn time off and gone to her. But he’s fairly sure it would have ended badly. Or as Tony said, ‘We just met the fourth ex-Mrs. Gibbs.”

And he’s out of the new ex-wife business.

Long time between Hollis and Susan. Long time before he found a spark that lit more than passing interest. Not that Hart or Ryan weren’t fond of him. Not that he wasn’t fond of them. But… They never really got past friendly sex.

Susan though… She was different. Less challenging. He likes women that stand up to him, that challenge him, and she did, but there was a sweetness there…

Diane was all sharp corners and edges, the razor-edged cuts he needed to feel alive then. Jen used her attractiveness to underscore her upper hand. For her, sexuality was a tool that she used to make sure the men under her obeyed. Hollis was that same drive and need to do the job he had. And all of them stood up to him, teased him, kept him on his toes, made him toe the line, and he adored it.

Susan was… gentle. What do they call them, Steel Magnolias? Those lovely, polite, gentle southern women who’ll go to hell and back and enjoy the trip rather than let you screw them over? Yeah. Something like that.

But she was from Michigan, so maybe not.

However it worked, sometimes she’d just give him a look, and he’d know she was drawing a line just to see if he’d cross it.

And he liked that.

He liked her.

Even brought her home. Introduced her to the family. Told her about Shannon and Kelly before it could become an issue.

And six months on, he still liked her. Really liked her.

But she still wasn’t Shannon, and he didn’t feel that way about her.

And in the end, he wants more than just a pleasant companion to end his days with. And she was never going to be much more than that.

It was close to three in the morning when he finished writing. Most of it was just what he remembered about his ladies, how he met them, good bits, bad bits, very bad bits.

On the page on top was a list.

Dream Home: Plan

Meet woman.
     Not in a bar
     Not redhead.
Common ground good (cop, military) but not required.
Get to know her.
Let her get to know you.
Talk. Women like words, so talk to her.
     Don’t hide Kelly or Shannon.
     Don’t hide cases.
Introduce her to family. See if they like her.
Take it slow.
Get to know her family. (See if you like them.)

Reassess and go from there.

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